River Thames and London waterways

The river Thames at dusk, looking across to the South Bank and Bankside, with boats on the water.
South Bank skyline and the river Thames © visitlondon.com/Jon Reid
From the river Thames to Regent's Canal, the city's waterways are charming and perfect for exploring.

The river Thames flows through central London and provides a captivating backdrop to many of the city's top tourist attractions, including Tower Bridge, the London Eye and the Tower of London.

The Thames is intertwined with London's history and continues to inspire artists, musicians and writers. Stroll along it at night to see its bridges lit up as part of the Insta-worthy public art trail, Illuminated River, or walk or cycle along the Thames Path. There are also many restaurants and pubs on the Thames and beside London canals, where you can go for a quiet drink or meal. 

Regent's Canal, which stretches all the way from Little Venice in the west to Docklands in the east, is particularly popular with everyone from dog walkers to those looking for a high-end romantic meal. In recent years, the stretch through King's Cross and the beautifully renovated Coal Drops Yard has become a favoured destination for boutique shopping and on-trend restaurants.

London's main waterway is a tidal river, rising and falling as much as eight metres (26ft) between high and low tides. Although it was once the source of London's "Great Stink" (1858), today the Thames is one of the cleanest rivers in Europe.

River Thames services

The Jupiter clipper operated by Uber Boat by Thames Clippers sails past the Houses of Parliament.  

River bus services are popular with visitors and commuters alike, and are a great way of beating traffic and enjoying fantastic views. Schedules vary according to the time of year. Oyster and Travelcard holders can get discounts on many routes and hop-on hop-off services are available.

Find out more about London river services and fares.

River Thames cruise ideas

If you're looking to spend more time on the river, book onto a London Thames river cruise at lunch or soak up the city's lights on a dinner cruise. If you want to see the sights, enjoy a Thames boat tour with commentary, food and dancing, or get the adrenaline pumping on a thrilling speedboat ride.

Plan your day on London's waterways

Visit Thames is an independent guide to the river Thames from its source in the Cotswolds through Oxford, Henley, Windsor and into London. The River Thames Guide lists boat hire companies, riverside pubs and restaurants, walking and cycling routes and more.

The Canal & River Trust maintains the inland waterway network in England and Wales – some 3,220km (2,000 miles) in all. In London, this includes: 

  • Bow Back Rivers: The backwaters of the river Lee are among London's lesser-known waterways.
  • Grand Union Canal: The single longest canal in Britain, the Grand Union links London and Birmingham.
  • Hertford Union Canal: This canal connects the Grand Union Canal with the Lee Navigation.
  • Lee Navigation: This 44km-long (27 miles) waterway has been used for transport, waste disposal, flood control, mill power and pleasure boating. It runs close to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
  • Limehouse Cut: A straight canal passing through 3km (two miles) of industrial London.
  • London Docklands: An area built around the Isle of Dogs to cater for rapidly expanding shipping, Docklands is now a bustling business and leisure district.
  • Regent's CanalLinking to the river Thames at Limehouse, and running all the way to Paddington, the 14km-long (nine mile) Regent's Canal snakes through a rich urban landscape including Camden, ZSL London Zoo and pretty Little Venice. 
  • River Roding: A tributary of the tidal Thames in east London, it's navigable as far as Ilford.
  • River Thames: London's main artery runs almost 350km (220 miles) from source to sea, has an amazing history and offers myriad leisure opportunities.
  • Welsh Harp (Brent Reservoir): A designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and an important home for wildfowl. It also has a water sports area.

Make the most of London's river with our top tips for exploring the Thames. You can also enjoy lots of water-themed events as part of the month-long Totally Thames festival each September.